Anoka-Hennepin teacher training test requires affirmation of "neutrality policy"

Categories: GLBT
anoka high school.jpg
Anoka-Hennepin
Teachers at high schools like Anoka are being asked to neuter their feelings on neutrality.
Teachers who have a problem with the Anoka-Hennepin school district's so-called "no homo promo" policy are in yet another tight spot.

The policy says that staff "shall remain neutral on matters regarding sexual orientation" in the schools. Some district teachers have been complaining for years that at best the policy is confusing and at worst it prevents them from helping gay teens in crisis.

Now, all teachers and staff are being required to take a test that essentially affirms that they believe the policy protects students. Some are refusing to do so.

In the last two years, nine teens who attended Anoka-Hennepin schools committed suicide, and at least two were tied to anti-gay bullying. That's cast a very unflattering light on the district's Sexual Orientation Curriculum Policy or "neutrality" policy, which is the only of its kind in the state. The key part reads:

Anoka-Hennepin staff, in the course of their professional duties, shall remain neutral on matters regarding sexual orientation including but not limited to student led discussions.

This past summer, the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a federal suit against the district on behalf of five bullied students, saying that the neutrality policy fostered a discriminatory school atmosphere that encouraged name-calling and anti-gay violence. The Department of Justice has launched its own investigation on the charges.

SOCP Question.jpg
A screengrab from the online test [CLICK TO ENLARGE].
Throughout the turmoil, district administrators have stuck by the policy and instituted new teacher training in order to "clarify" it. As a part of that training, teachers and staff recently watched a Power Point video called "District Message on Anti-Bullying, Anti-Harassment and Policy Related FAQs." It explained both the neutrality policy and the district bullying policy, and how to administer each. Teachers were then told to pass a quiz on the material with 100 percent accuracy.

The trouble started on question number three: "One of the goals of the Sexual Orientation Curriculum Policy is to ensure all of our students feel safe and respected in our classrooms and/or while participating in school activities: true or false?"

That did not sit right with Colleen Cashen, the school psychologist for Northdale Middle School.

"I didn't feel in my heart that I could say that that statement was true," she says. "I think the policy creates a hostile environment for some students."

She answered the question "false," which results in a failure to "master." Although teachers are allowed to retake the online quiz as many times as they like, several like Cashen are refusing to change their answer. Those who've done so are being warned they must complete the test by September 30.

Anoka Middle School drama teacher Jefferson Fietek says he is uneasy about how the quiz results will be used afterward.

"My fear is that I'm going to be opening up my weekly newspaper and seeing, '100 percent of district teachers say the policy is helpful,'" he says. "It's really poor timing and a poor choice and is putting teachers in a really rough spot."

Jonathon Plotz, an english teacher at Anoka High School also found fault with a second question which asked, "In which of the following situations should a teacher remain 'neutral'?" Answers B through D are all examples of overt bullying, answer A says, "Students in a Language Arts class are discussing how an author's sexual orientation may have influenced the literary work." Knowing "A" was the correct answer, Plotz also intentionally answered this question incorrectly.

"It's not because we have any question about whether or not we should intervene with bullying," he says. "It's, 'Can I say anything at all about this topic?'"

In an email, a spokesperson for the district wrote that there will be no punishment for failing the test, but that a meeting to discuss the issue has been set up with the teacher's union for next week.

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Melissa T.
Melissa T.

I think what people don't realize is the connection between this policy and the "climate" that has fostered bullying and hostility.  Those in favor keep saying these are "two separate policies, one deals with bullying and the other with curriculum", well they are much more connected than that.  This policy implies that being gay is so shameful and bad that the rest of the world of needs to be shielded from it.  It says gay people are not worthy of recognition in the same way the rest of us are. 

 If we cannot even talk about our differences, how are we ever expected to understand and appreciate them?  When a child is made to feel ashamed of who they are or who their family is they lose a little bit of their soul, and when that shame and hostilty is allowed to bubble and fester over time, you arrive at a point I believe we are at now.   We are telling the bullies, regardless of who they are bullying that some people are less than others and so it's ok to devalue them and demonize them, and when you do that it's easier to hurt them because there is no emotional connection.

Allowing for open dialog about diversity and differences leads to understanding, which leads to tolerance and compassion,  and when we feel like we know someone we are more apt to be respectful and protective of them. This policy robs kids of that opportunity and in my opinion sets them up to disconnect before they've even had a chance to form "their own opinion".  Children aren't born with prejudices, they learn them, in the same way they learn positive qualities.  I think we don't give the students of Anoka-Hennepin enough credit, when we don't give them access to information and an inclusive, historically accurate curriculum. Things can that can only enrich them and help them as they go into this big, wonnderful and diverse world of ours we fall far short of our duty to educate our kids and prepare them for life.

Karyn
Karyn

Well stated, Melissa.

Regarding this point:

"Children aren't born with prejudices, they learn them, in the same way they learn positive qualities.  I think we don't give the students of Anoka-Hennepin enough credit, when we don't give them access to information and an inclusive, historically accurate curriculum."

I think, perhaps, that is exactly what the people pushing this policy are afraid of:  that students who are allowed to openly think and discuss and debate might actually decide to discard the prejudices their elders want them to inherit.  The policy exists, not to protect the students, but to protect the prejudices.

Every LGBT ally having any contact with anyone in the Anoka-Hennepin school district community needs to speak up loudly and often at every opportunity that presents itself.  If they won't allow the conversation in the schools, by all that is holy they will encounter it the minute they step outside of them.

Kirk the Conservative Jerk
Kirk the Conservative Jerk

Bullying is bullying.

Why is it that one group feels they need special rules that only apply to them?

Bullying is bullying.

No punishment for "failing the test"?well DUH!!!!!

Good luck "punishing" a teacher with tenure. The teachers union will fight the LBGT tooth and nail on that.

Rita
Rita

It's really horrible that straight people get all kinds of special rules.  Straight people get told it's okay for people to bully gays to suicide, they are told they are perfect because they are straight, they are told they have equal rights under the law, they are told they can seek help from any teacher or counselor and told that it is okay to be themselves, they are told they can be protected from bullying.

Anthonasty Ross
Anthonasty Ross

Yeah Kirk, cause that policy is working oh so well currently. Haven't you heard? No problems anywhere with gay teens at all. Nothing to see here. Move along. Move along...

srsly
srsly

If any teacher doesn't help a gay teen because they feel it would be against policy, well, that's on them. To interpret this as "don't help bullied gays" is moronic. 

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